The perfect holiday: culture, family and term-time prices

12th May 2006 at 01:00
The intermittent debate about whether parents should take their children on holiday during term-time erupted again last term with a High Court judge ruling that parents are breaking the law if they withdraw their children from lessons without permission and, in Wales, a slight decrease in overall attendance being blamed on parents who do exactly this kind of thing.

Politicians have re-emphasised that it is up to the school to authorise these holidays with an assumption that headteachers will disagree with them taking place. Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about. In my view parents should be encouraged to take their children on holiday in term-time, with a couple of obvious caveats. The holiday shouldn't clash with important school dates such as examinations - or the preparation for them. Nor should there be repeated holidays within one school year. The two-weeks-per-year guideline is very sensible, as long as we retain flexibility.

Why would I encourage such holidays when they take our pupils out of school for two weeks and adversely affect our attendance? A well planned and executed holiday, be it in Britain or abroad, has clear educational value.

The opportunities for learning about culture, history and language, and taking part in new experiences, are enormous. If a holiday can help a young person raise their sights above their own community and nation, to see that there are other, different people in the world who are, usually, extremely agreeable, it will have served a significant purpose and had as much educational benefit as two weeks in the classroom.

A good holiday is an excellent way for families to re-establish their bonds as well as meet a wide variety of new people and, potentially, make some friends. Anything that helps to keep families together and works against the debilitating effects of the social incoherence found in Britain today should be strongly supported.

You could make the obvious point that the educational and social benefits of family holidays can equally be gained in traditional holiday time. This is where the economic argument bites and is, ultimately, the reason why I support parents who choose to holiday in term-time. Frankly, you must be slightly mad to pay two or three times as much for the same thing by waiting until the school holidays to go away. Mad, or forced to do it by being employed in education.

If I was able to, I would certainly take my own children (and I have three) out of school for an annual holiday abroad. I'd save thousands. If only all parents, apart from those working in education, took their children away during term-time, the prices during school holiday time would come down and teachers could benefit as well. That's what I call a win-win situation.

Alan Tootill

Alan Tootill is head of a comprehensive in South Wales

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